So what are the 2020 church trends you should watch in what is shaping up to be a very pivotal year?
In this post, I’ll share six new trends that really have my attention.
While it might seem like a lot of change and challenges ahead, you and I lead in an age of massive disruption.
Industries are being disrupted or obliterated in years, not decades, and once-dominant companies are falling fast (just ask Polaroid, Blockbuster or Compaq computers).
And leading in the church is even a little more complex than leading in the marketplace for numerous reasons. Here’s one of them: America is moving from a Christian to post-Christian culture faster than most people imagined, and will soon match the level of secularization found in places like Europe, Australia, Canada, and other Western nations.
The nones, or those claiming no religious affiliation, have now emerged as the largest religious demographic in the US—a larger group than evangelicals or Roman Catholics.
Leading people to Jesus in a world that’s moving away from Jesus is an increasingly difficult challenge…and increasingly larger opportunity.
There’s so much at stake.Leading people to Jesus in a world that's moving away from Jesus is an increasingly difficult challenge...and increasingly larger opportunity. Click To Tweet
As a result, this year, I’ve written two posts on trends for 2020.
5 Disruptive Leadership Trends That Will Rule 2020 is my first trends post for 2020. In it, I focus on five different trends I see in the culture that all leaders in every field (business, church, not-for-profit) may want to track. You can read that here.
This post is on 6 trends specific to church leaders, and it’s the 2020 edition of a post I’ve done for the last four years:
5 Disruptive Church Trends for 2019
7 Disruptive Church Trends for 2018
6 Disruptive Church Trends for 2017
5 Disruptive Church Trends for 2016
I know, that’s a lot of disruption.
Disruption is hard because disruption is inconvenient. It’s far easier to keep doing what you’re doing hoping for better results. But just know this: being disrupted is far more painful than deciding to disrupt yourself.
With that in mind, here are 6 disruptive church trends that will rule 2020.Being disrupted is far more painful than deciding to disrupt yourself. Click To Tweet
1. Content-Based Attendance Will Decline. Movements, Moments and Missions Will Grow
It’s no secret that most churches are plateaued or declining, and that even models of church that were effective a decade ago—like attractional church—are struggling now.
I wrote about the growth of charismatic churches and the decline of the attractional church approach here, and about the hunger we have in our culture for the transcendent, not just the immanent. All of that is still true, if not intensifying.
So where is all of this going?
Recently, I had a fascinating conversation with Louie Giglio, founder of Passion, about this. Passion just saw 65,000 college students flood Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta for three days.
In a recent interview with Louie on my Leadership Podcast (listen here via Apple Podcasts or Spotify), Louie and I discuss what events people still love to attend and what events people tend to skip.
The interview crystallized for me that what’s still growing are movements, moments and missions. Passion 2020 was a movement of students on a mission gathering for moment—65,000 of them in one place at one time.
Similarly, Louie points out in the interview, people seem to have no trouble pouring out onto the streets for political or social protests or gathering for critical moments.
Louie’s so right. Attendance at live events isn’t dying, but it is changing. A lot.Attendance at live events isn't dying, but it is changing. A lot. Click To Tweet
The church, of course, at our authentic best, has all of these characteristics: a movement on a mission characterized by some very profound moments.
Too often, though, we ignore or simply miss those critical elements because so much of the current church model for Sunday morning has been based on content delivery.
But content alone no longer fills a room in an age where content fills the internet.
Content used to fill a room because content was scarce. You had to attend to hear a message. But podcasts, YouTube and social media have changed that dramatically and permanently from all we can tell. As a result, you no longer have to be in the room to listen.
So what does this mean?
People are hungering for an experience of God, not just information about God. That’s always been true, but that’s even truer now (for reasons I share here).Content alone no longer fills a room in an age where content fills the internet. People are hungering for an experience of God, not just information about God. Click To Tweet
Emphasizing moments and movements and mission are more critical than ever. People don’t just want to know what’s true, they want to know what’s real. And what’s real is deeper than just an idea—it’s an experience.
As a matter of confession, in the past, sometimes the services we crafted had too much hype or too much head knowledge and not enough encounter.
Hype is no longer resonating with a generation of people looking for hope.Hype is no longer resonating with a generation of people looking for hope. Click To Tweet
So, in 2020, focus on calling people back to the mission of the church, not just attending church. Call people to do the kinds of things people who are part of a movement do (how about start by loving your city and each other?) and shaping moments in the service that go beyond information and engage people’s senses and heart (for starters: prayer, music that’s more than just some songs to get people energized, maybe even communion).
All of this can spark moments of transformation. You can’t create powerful moments, but you can facilitate them.
Churches that do this—that have great content but think beyond great content—will likely gain momentum.
But churches that ignore an encounter with God and simply hope a decent message will fill a room will likely continue to be shocked by how it no longer does.Churches that ignore an encounter with God and simply hope a decent message will fill a room will likely continue to be shocked by how it no longer does. Click To Tweet
2. Growing Churches Will Be Led By Younger Leaders
There’s data that also points to a trend I’m also sensing through first-hand observation: growing churches tend to be led by younger leaders.
Research by Petr Cincala and Renee Drum suggests that clergy age impacts congregations in these ways (thank you to FACT for the summary and to Ed Stetzer directing me to it):
Younger clergy (under 50 years) appear to be driving the largest share of church growth in the US.
Young pastors lead churches rated as healthier compared to older pastors.
Younger clergy lead congregations with more adults younger than 50, Young Adults, Youth and Children than older clergy
Aging pastors lead congregations with a greater percentage of older members
Younger clergy are oriented more to goals than older pastors who tend to be service and people-oriented
I’m certain you can find exceptions to this. Some 50+ leaders are doing a great job leading their growing churches into the future. And a 50+ leader on a new assignment sometimes brings higher energy and fresher perceptive than a 50+ leader who’s led in the same place for decades.
However, as the church decline statistics might suggest, younger leaders seem to be leading much of the growth.Growing churches tend to be led by younger leaders. Click To Tweet
So what’s going on? Well, it’s harder to keep innovating as you get older as a leader, in part because you’ve used a lot of your creative energy to craft what you’ve created (your creative energy has a shelf-life and cycle to it) and it’s easy to fall prey to sunk cost bias (I’ve built this whole thing this way…we simply have to keep it going).
As a result, the older you get, the less likely you are to innovate. And innovation drives growth and connection with emerging generations.
I’m not talking about innovations around mission—just methods. When the methods atrophy, the mission dies.When the methods atrophy, the mission dies. Click To Tweet
For a host of reasons, this trend shouldn’t be shocking.
First, innovation for the next generation naturally comes from the next generation.
Second, new churches, re-starts and leadership transitions often spark growth: momentum naturally comes from new and innovative approaches.
Third, the next generation inherently understands the generation they’re trying to reach better than previous generations.
So many leaders talk about reaching the next generation but never include the next generation.
It’s becoming increasingly clear that it’s going to take the leadership of the next generation to reach the next generation.So many leaders talk about reaching the next generation but never include the next generation. It's going to take the leadership of the next generation to reach the next generation. Click To Tweet
3. The Succession Crisis Will Become More of A Crisis
I believe we’ll see two things in 2020 when it comes to succession.
More older leaders who realize it’s time for them to move on but who don’t know how.
More younger leaders leaving because older leaders won’t move on when they should move on.
I hear almost every day from frustrated younger leaders who complain about how stuck, uninspired and stubborn the senior leadership in their church is. And talking to older leaders, it’s equally clear many (not all, but many) have run out of vision, energy and fresh ideas for the seasons ahead while they hang onto leaders.
When most churches are plateaued or declining, younger leaders know what many are loathe to admit: it’s unlikely that the leader who led a church into decline is going to be the leader who gets it growing.It's unlikely that the leader who led a church into decline is going to be the leader who gets it growing. Click To Tweet
Let me be clear: I do NOT have a hate on for older leaders. I’m well into my fifties. But I do get frustrated with leaders who won’t make room for the next generation or fresh ideas.
Personally, when I felt my energy for the church I led begin to wane when I was in my late forties, I exited the senior pastor role (at age 50). I still had a ton of passion for the mission. I just sensed I probably was no longer the guy to lead it. In fact, because I had so much passion for the mission I realized it was time for me to let someone younger lead it and position our church well for the future.
And (no surprise here), what you often discover when you change roles is that your passion renews. I have a ton of fresh passion and energy for leading what I’m leading today (writing, podcasting, speaking)—helping the church and leaders, but just from a new seat.
Every year the church is led by a leader who’s lost vision, lost passion and lost focus, the mission suffers.
However, the succession crisis is only a crisis if you make it one. Great leadership renews. Other leadership hangs on.Every year the church is led by a leader who's lost vision, lost passion and lost focus, the mission suffers. Click To Tweet
If you want more, I wrote on the issues behind the pastoral succession crisis in this post and how boards, leaders and successors might respond (if the issue is that the pastor can’t afford to retire, there’s a better solution than hanging on for five more years).
4. Preaching Will Continue to Move To Higher Quality, Lower Reps
In almost all growing churches there seems to be a move by preachers to higher quality and lower reps.
Higher quality means spending more time working on each message. Lower reps means preaching fewer messages each year.
That’s a big shift. A few decades ago, most preachers prepared 2-3 different messages a week: one sermon Sunday morning, another Sunday night, and yet another fresh one mid-week. That often meant preparing and delivering over 100 messages each year.
What’s changed, of course, is that content is now everywhere. And thanks to podcasts, TED talks and YouTube, preachers are being compared to anyone and everyone.
Hence the move to higher quality and lower reps in preaching.Thanks to podcasts, TED talks and YouTube, preachers are being compared to anyone and everyone. Hence the trend to higher quality and lower reps in preaching. Click To Tweet
I informally polled (via text) half a dozen preachers under age 45 I know who lead rapidly growing mega-churches. I asked them how many times a year they preached.
The answer was eerily similar: 33-39 Sundays a year. Which means they’re not teaching between 15-19 Sundays a year. And most of that is not because they’re on vacation or teaching somewhere else.
As Aaron Brockett from Trader’s Point told me:
Preaching reps work a little like dog years…they age you. I want to develop other communicators and expose our people to other voices and styles as well.
I can suffer from a little content fatigue…our people can get listener fatigue if it’s the same voice and style over and over.Preaching reps work a little like dog years...they age you. @aaronbrockett Click To Tweet
If you’re looking to deepen the impact of your preaching in 2020, think better messages, not more messages.
If you don’t have a team, consider using video for other weeks. Life.Church and many other churches make their videos available for free.
Quality beats quantity. You’ll be better. So will your people.
If you want to sharpen your communication skills this year, Mark Clark and I have put all of our top content on how to preach better sermons into The Art of Better Preaching.If you're looking to deepen the impact of your preaching in 2020, think better messages, not more messages. Click To Tweet
5. The Mediocre Middle Will Frustrate More Churches
As I outlined in my Leadership Trends for 2020 post, the middle is disappearing from our culture. It’s also disappearing from our church.
While you can get a full explanation of this trend here, what does the disappearance of the middle from culture mean for church leaders?
In the same way that mid-market department stores (think Sears) have been decimated, and the low and high end of culture is thriving, churches may also want to rethink the middle.The middle is disappearing from our culture. It's also disappearing from the church. Click To Tweet
This middle is where average lives. The middle is trying to reach everybody. And in the church context, in particular, the middle involves imitation.
If you look at many churches, the last few decades have involved a lot of imitation. Find a big church you admire and emulate.
However (and this is a big however), many smaller to mid-sized churches don’t have the people, money or gifting to pull off what larger churches pull off, or at least they lack the ability to do it well.
As a result, mediocrity wins.
The Band is trying to do Hillsong/Elevation/Bethel, but it’s really not that great.
The pastor is trying to be relevant and funny, but, um, well….
Your church is trying to offer great programs, but you’re really stretching yourself thin—too thin.
As a result, you end up in the middle. And the middle is disappearing.
That can be a really frustrating place to be when you realize you are hundreds/thousands of people and thousands/millions of dollars from doing what you want to be able to do.
So what do you do?
First, rethink imitation.
As I’ve shared before, imitation kills innovation. Leaders who imitate rarely innovate, and while you can learn from others, trying to be someone else can end up stifling your voice and squelching your gift.
Ask yourself, what gift do you bring that others don’t have? The good news is: it doesn’t take much work for you to be you. You’re gifted in ways others aren’t…so leverage that. Plus it’s authentic. Authentic resonates in a way imitation never does.Authentic resonates in a way imitation never does. Click To Tweet
Second, find what your team does best and lean into it.
Maybe you don’t really have the talent to put together a quality full band. But you have an amazing keyboard player or guitarist. So go with them for a season, and hope and pray for the day when you can add highly gifted musicians back into the mix.
I love our band(s) now at our church. And somehow we manage to stack three locations with phenomenally gifted players. But rewind two decades, and it was way more of a struggle. We simply did the best we could with what we had, kept featuring the best musicians we had.
One great musician will connect far better with an audience than a below-average band.One great musician will connect far better with an audience than a below-average band. Click To Tweet
If you’re a small or mid-sized church, plan for growth, but in the meantime get really good at being small…and personal.
As the leadership trends post suggests, small can be personal. Warm. Human. Empathetic. Of course, large can be all those things too, but when you’re smaller you can be so great at those.
If the middle is disappearing, do everything you can to avoid it. It might be one of the best things you’ve ever done.If you're a small or mid-sized church, get really good at being small...and personal. Click To Tweet
6. Your Politics Will Alienate The Very People You’re Trying to Reach
I saved the most controversial till last.
Maybe you won’t read it.
But I hope you do.
This one’s been really tugging on my heart and I’ve hesitated to say much because things are so divisive and explosive right now. I’ve been through numerous drafts trying to say it well.
So with some fear and trepidation, here are my thoughts.
2020 is an election year. And that means and more and more church leaders will be tempted to take to social media, platforms and pulpits to preach partisan politics.
Aligning yourself specifically with a position or party overshadows your connection to Jesus. People no longer see Jesus, they see a Republican or Democrat or whatever position they imagine you to be.
When you become partisan or political in your preaching or platform, by definition, in this culture, you alienate about half the people you’re supposed to be reaching.
And you alienate them over issues that have nothing to do with Jesus.When you become partisan or political in your preaching, by definition, in this culture, you alienate about half the people you're supposed to be reaching. And you alienate them over issues that have nothing to do with Jesus. Click To Tweet
If your theology is all about
God, guns, the Supreme Court, and why the left is so bad; or
Climate change, sexual identity, taxing the rich and why the right is horrible
…you have to ask yourself whether that’s really your faith speaking or your partisanship speaking.
The church doesn’t exist to elect or defeat politicians. It exists to glorify Christ and grow his Kingdom (which is an alt Kingdom) in the world.
And (gut check) if God has all the same opinions your political party does, you’re probably not worshipping God.If God has all the same opinions your political party does, you’re probably not worshipping God. Click To Tweet
God is not a Republican, a Democrat, a conservative, a liberal or a socialist. He transcends all our political categories, however important they might be to you or me.
Politics matters, but it will never change the world the way the Gospel can (or has).
When it come to evangelism, unchurched people aren’t looking for an echo to the political culture, they’re hungering for an alternative.Unchurched people aren't looking for an echo to the political culture, they're hungering for an alternative. Click To Tweet
You want to know why this issue is so divisive?
My guess is underneath your passion is anger. I get that. I get angry at the culture and at politics too.
Spewing hate at people who disagree with you or smugly defending your position is one of the most effective ways to ensure people never see the love of Jesus pouring through you.
Too often, we preachers who claim to speak for Jesus act and behave nothing like Jesus. And that’s not acceptable.Too often, preachers who claim to speak for Jesus act and behave nothing like Jesus. Click To Tweet
In an age where everybody has a platform and everyone has an audience, we need more humility and wisdom, not more anger and hate.
Imagine if 2020 was a year when the Gospel advances. Imagine a year in which
Hope gets fuelled.
We can disagree but still be agreeable.
We focus on what unites us, not on what divides us.
Looking for a model?
In my view, Tim Keller has masterfully and effectively preached for decades to a people who have all kinds of political persuasions and positions. And he’s done it in a way that, to me, reflects the heart and mind of Christ.
In a divided culture, Christians should be the help and the hope, not the hate.In a divided culture, Christians should be the help and the hope, not the hate. Click To Tweet